Al Lang Field
Al Lang Stadium is a 7,227 seat soccer-specific stadium located on the downtown waterfront of St. Petersburg, Florida, United States. Originally a baseball park, first built in 1947, reconstructed in 1976, and renovated in 1998, it was redesigned as a soccer venue in 2011. The facility is named in honor of Al Lang, a former mayor of St. Petersburg who helped build the city's relationship with sports by bringing in professional baseball in the early twentieth century.
For many decades, the stadium was the spring training home for a series Major League Baseball clubs and the summer home of their affiliated minor league teams. Tenants included the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays, amongst others. The stadium hosted its last spring training game in 2008. Since 2011, it has served as the home pitch for the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club of the North American Soccer League.
Professional baseball was growing across the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, and clubs sought additional facilities to accommodate their spring training. Al Lang, a businessman in St. Petersburg, Florida, saw a huge potential to attract northeastern teams to his city to take advantage of the warm weather during the early months of the year. Lang and city officials created an incentives package that covered teams' travel expenses and other amenities, which drew in the city's first spring training tenant, the St. Louis Browns, in 1914. Subsequently other Major League Baseball clubs such as the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees came to St. Petersburg for spring training, and Lang continued promoting the city when he was elected Mayor of St. Petersburg in 1916. After his term, Lang devoted his life to building a successful connection between the game of baseball and the state of Florida, was instrumental in marketing St. Petersburg as a desirable sports site.
With Al Lang's support, the city built the St. Petersburg Athletic Park on the present site of Al Lang Stadium in 1923. It served as the spring training home for Major League Baseball teams the Boston Braves and the New York Yankees until after World War II, hosting baseball greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial. In 1947, the city constructed a baseball park on the same site and named it Al Lang Field in honor of his many years of service to the city and state. It would eventually host the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, and New York Mets. By 1976, the stadium underwent a major reconstruction, and a succession of teams continued to use the facility. In 1998, the expansion team Tampa Bay Devil Rays moved into the stadium for their spring games. As their regular season home was at Tropicana Field approximately one mile west, the Devil Rays became the first major league team to train in the same city in almost 90 years.
In the same year, local utility Florida Power purchased the park's naming rights for $150,000 per year, rechristening it Florida Power Park at Al Lang Field. When Florida Power's name was changed to Progress Energy in 2003, the stadium's official name was also changed.
Over the years, the stadium was home to many minor league baseball teams including Class-A Florida State League affiliates for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Tampa Bay Rays. The last minor league tenant was the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who last played at the stadium in 2000.
The 1997 and 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournaments were played at the venue. Florida State won both tournaments. The 2000 Conference USA Baseball Tournament, won by Houston, was also held at the park.
Proposal for new ball park
In 2005, the Tampa Bay Rays announced plans to move their spring training home to Port Charlotte, about 90 minutes south of St. Petersburg, for the 2009 season. On November 9, 2007, Rays President Matt Silverman introduced a plan to build a new $450 million Rays Ballpark on the site of Progress Energy Park to be ready in 2012. The plan failed to garner enough political support to move forward at that time, and it was shelved in June 2008. The Rays began a process of considering other locations, abandoning the Al Lang site in May 2009.
The Rays played their last spring training ballgame at the stadium on March 28, 2008. For the first time in several decades, the stadium was without a tenant. It did not host a professional sporting event between April 2008 and March 2011. Then, during Spring 2011, the stadium hosted a series of exhibition contests between international baseball clubs, including three contests versus MLB teams. That year, the facility was renamed to Al Lang stadium.
In 2011, after a couple of years without a long term tenant, the stadium received a new team and sport that also had its long tradition in the area with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL and soccer since the 1970s. At the time, the team was going under the name FC Tampa while their naming rights were being resolved. The stadium soon had a redesign of the field and the facility was converted into a soccer-specific stadium. The Rowdies played their first home game there on April 9, 2011.
On October 27, 2012, the Tampa Bay Rowdies became the 2012 NASL Champions by winning the Soccer Bowl at Al Lang Stadium. It was the first time that a major championship was held at the site, and the first in which its home team won the title. The Rowdies defeated the Minnesota Stars (presently Minnesota United FC) in a two game aggregate series after a penalty shootout.
In 2013, the Rowdies signed a lease extension keeping the team at Al Lang Stadium through the 2016 season.
On January 29, 2013 Major League Lacrosse announced that the 2012 MLL champions the Rochester Rattlers would face the Chesapeake Bayhawks for their season opener at Al Lang stadium. It would be the first time that the league would play there. Part of this game is an effort to evaluate the Tampa Bay Area, and the state of Florida in general, for an expansion team, after MLL held the All-Star game at FIU Stadium the previous year. It was supported by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission who want to affirm the city's brand as a world-class destination for sports tourism. The game was played on Saturday, April 27, 2013 in front of 3,940 people (an attendance higher than half the league's average attendance). The Chesapeake Bayhawks won against the Rochester Rattlers 17-14.
Future of the stadium
In 2013, the city of St. Petersburg began the process of creating a master plan for the waterfront area that is currently in discussion. There are several concepts and designs that are being proposed for the site. One includes replacing the entire stadium and surrounding into a soccer park complex with a new soccer-specific stadium.
- Rawhide - a 1938 feature film starring Lou Gehrig, premiered in St. Petersburg by Mayor Al Lang
- Strategic Air Command - Al Lang Field featured prominently as the setting for the first 10 minutes of the 1955 motion picture starring James Stewart and June Allyson.
- Al Lang Stadium, City of St. Petersburg official website
- History of spring training in St. Petersburg by St. Petersburg Times
- Picture tour
- Spring training guide to Al Lang stadium
- Internet Movie Database
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